Gubernatorial candidates speak on campus issues


Patrick Li

Chris Kennedy speaks during the Democratic gubernatorial candidate forum in Gregory Hall, Room 112, on Monday.

By Madelyn Foster, Contributing Writer

Illini Democrats hosted a gubernatorial candidate forum in Gregory Hall on Nov. 7 for Democratic candidates to address topics relevant to college students.

The candidates who participated in the forum were Bob Daiber, Tio Hardiman, state Sen. Daniel Biss and Chris Kennedy. J.B. Pritzker was not in attendance.

“There are student issues that are not being advocated for on a wider level, which is why we made this forum here, so that candidates have a chance to hear the questions that are important to us,” said Anusha Thotakura, president of Illini Democrats. “We hope that our questions reflect our values not only as college students, but as college students as a part of the Champaign-Urbana community.”

The questions for the candidates were written by the Illini Democrats board of executives in collaboration with political reporter for The News-Gazette, Tom Kacich.

The topics of the questions ranged from gun control, free college, campus activism and state spending on pensions.

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The forum began with each candidate’s two-minute opening statement.

Biss explained that he did not initially intend to go into politics, but was inspired by the political activity he witnessed as a math professor at the University of Chicago during the George W. Bush administration.

“I fell in love with the idea that people could make movements and movements could make social change. Now is the moment for historic opportunity to enact progressive public policy in the state of Illinois,” Biss said.

Hardiman ran for governor of Illinois in 2014 and secured close to 30 percent of the vote. His statement focused on his vision for the campaign’s 2020 plan as well as how he hopes to be viewed as an alternative candidate to the bigger names in the race.

“I plan to represent the working class, middle class and poor people in Illinois to the highest level. It’s time for us to say no to Donald Trump and to Bruce Rauner. Whoever wins this race is going to be a new direction for the state of Illinois,” Hardiman said.

Kennedy, one of Bobby and Ethel Kennedy’s 11 children, spent 5 1/2 years as the chairman of the board at the University of Illinois.

Kennedy said he is a proponent for higher education and how it can benefit the state economy.

“There’s only one economic development that’s ever worked in multiple decades in multiple cities in the United States and it’s the power of higher education research institutions. We can do anything that we want in the United States if we continue to invest in higher education,” Kennedy said.

Daiber is the first candidate for governor who has run from downstate in 20 years. His goals as governor include stabilizing the state’s economic condition and prioritizing a fund for an education appropriation bill.

“I believe that there’s more that unites Illinois than divides us. It’s not a highway or a racetrack. All of Illinois needs a governor that will lead them to prosperity,” Daiber said.

The question of higher education also brought about the topic of free college and the protection of public universities.

While all of the candidates agreed that higher education must be made more affordable, they each had their own way of addressing it.

Hardiman supports a progressive tax to bring new revenue and plans to use funds from Bill 54 to make college tuition free up to the bachelor’s degree level.

Biss said the state government should set the goal of making community college free first.

“Should tuition be free? Of course it should. Our economy has changed and it’s time to change with it because it’s unaffordable with our current tax system,” Biss said.

Both Daiber and Kennedy hope to revive the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Kennedy would like to move away from merit-based scholarships while Daiber would like to provide more incentive for students to come to Illinois for school.

“(Higher education) is an economic stimulus. Students bring revenue and they provide revenue when they graduate. We need to encourage people to go to school here and to stay here,” Daiber said.

One issue with encouraging graduates to stay in the state of Illinois is the lack of jobs available to them.

“Rauner has created a crisis, this is a self-inflicted wound.  All we have to do is remove him and we will be off the races,” Kennedy said.

Biss argued for a progressive tax as a means to invest in job creation and Hardiman plans to develop a task force to help match students with jobs.

Daiber agreed that Rauner has not marketed the state well, and attracting business would have to begin with a marketing plan.

“We need a plan to draw resources in … business doesn’t just happen, it is created,” Daiber said.

Candidates were also asked where they stand on campus issues and whether or not they think the governor should weigh in on campus issues.

While all of the candidates agreed that universities are the place to have conversations and reach common ground, only one candidate offered a specific perspective on the Chief Illiniwek controversy.

“I applaud student activists. I agree with the students advocating against Chief Illiniwek … we start by changing rhetoric, then behavior, then the next generation and the world,” Biss said.

The forum ran for two hours and was live-streamed on the Illini Democrats Facebook page.

“All four candidates that we saw tonight are very strong.” said Kevin Meyers, junior in LAS. “The party is in a good place.”

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